The sheikhs accidental b.., p.6
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       The Sheikh's Accidental Bride, p.6
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         Part #2 of The Sheikh Wants A Wife series by Holly Rayner
SIX

  It was the sun that woke Nadya, filtering through the skylight above. She was confused at first, trying to get her bearings. Everything felt light and bright, soft and warm. Everything felt still, and right.

  And yet, everything was wrong. Panic shot through her. Whatever magic the dinner, the conversation, the stars and the moonlight might have had her under, the morning had released her. She knew where she was, and where she was, was in trouble.

  She scurried about the room, thinking she was lucky that she hadn’t packed that much for the trip. She only got the one bag, and the airline she’d picked had a strict weight limit for their checked baggage. Nadya almost laughed out loud remembering. The idea of caring so much about an extra $25 when she was surrounded by so much luxury struck her as funny.

  But she didn’t have time to laugh. She had to go. She didn’t want to turn her phone on. At least, not until she was out of the building. There would be frantic messages waiting for her, and she didn’t have the wherewithal to face them yet. One problem at a time.

  She put on the same clothes as she had been wearing last night. They were her traveling clothes – functional and comfortable. They’d have to do for now.

  She headed out to the hallway, and was immediately confused. Which way had she come, last night, nestled against his chest, safe in his arms? She’d been too sleepy to notice.

  But then she saw the double-doors, and she knew. She would head through them, hang a right, and then the elevator would be on her left. She opened the door and—

  Crash.

  She’d opened the door not knowing someone was on the other side, carrying a loaded breakfast tray. There were breaking dishes and glasses, and the sounds of the tray settling to the ground, crashing like a cymbal.

  And there, in the middle of it all, with orange juice down the front of his silk pajamas, was Salman.

  “You’re awake!” he said, his first proper words after all of the “oh”s they’d both uttered.

  Nadya tossed her bag, as stealthily as she could, behind the other door where he wouldn’t see or ask her about it.

  “You’re wearing the same clothes as yesterday?” he asked, looking at her puzzled.

  “You know, you’re right. I am. I hadn’t realized.” It was a thin excuse, so she kept him from dwelling on it. “Was that my breakfast?”

  He looked down at the food all over the floor. Servants had appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to clean it, but it was still everywhere.

  “I wanted to bring it to you myself,” he said, sheepishly.

  “Well it’s turned out really well,” she said, wiping off a little smear of egg-yolk that had somehow gotten onto his ear in the confusion.

  “That may or may not be entirely my fault,” he said. “Anyway, I have a very important question to ask you,” he continued in mock seriousness. “It’s the thought that counts, true or false?”

  Nadya made a great show of deliberating. “Mmm. True,” she said at last.

  “Ok, good. Then, on the occasion of this breakfast, I have a favor to ask you.” She gave him an encouraging look, and he continued. “I know you probably have a million things to verify and take care of for the wedding today. But could you, just for me, skip all of it and spend the day with me?”

  The question was a bit of theater. It was half a joke, half teasing. She was supposed to say “yes”, and quickly. Or she could tease him a little, and pretend to consider.

  But for Nadya, it was a serious question. She tried to find a way out of it. Her clean exit strategy would be ruined if she spent any longer around this fascinating man. Who knew where they would go, and how she would get out it? Where would they be when it all came crashing down?

  Unless…

  Her bag sat where she had left it, perched at an odd angle born of expediency up against the wall. She glanced at it. Was anything in there really that important? If she brought her wallet, and her phone and her keys with her, was there any reason she couldn’t just leave her bag behind? With any luck, she would be able to slip away at some point in the day. Maybe leave a note. Maybe.

  “Sure,” she said, putting him out of his misery.

  “I thought for sure for a second you were going to say no.” He seemed puzzled. Hurt, even. Like he knew that there was something about the exchange that he was missing, but he didn’t know what.

  “Oh, Salman. I was afraid you were going to find this out. I am, and have always been, not even the slightest bit a morning person.”

  He smiled, the tension broken as he recognized his words from last night.

  “Do you think you can still marry me,” she continued, “knowing that this is the life you’d be in for?”

  “Yes,” he said, enthusiastically.

  It was a little game they were playing. An inside joke, based on a new memory that they’d made together. Even though it was based in deceit, and she knew that his yes was not really for her, she still got goosebumps when she heard it.

  “Good to know,” she said, quietly. Then she cleared her throat. “I’m going to go change. I’m guessing you will, too?”

  “I’ll get back to you on that,” he said, already walking backwards. “I may go like this.” Then he turned, and walked away, casting just one glance over his shoulder before he rounded the corner to his side of the suite.

  The door slid closed silently. Nadya grabbed her bag and hauled it off to her room. It was time to focus. Could she really do this? Was there nothing in her luggage that wasn’t disposable?

  As she sorted through everything, the answer turned out to be no. She’d miss her traveling clothes and her Chuck Taylors, but they’d probably needed to be replaced for a few months already.

  She donned the dress she had meant to wear for her sister’s anniversary party. Jasmine had planned a day party, luckily, so the dress would hopefully be appropriate for whatever Salman was going to throw at her. She got herself together as quickly as she could and headed to the elevator. And waited.

  Traditionally, Nadya thought, it was supposed to be the woman who took longer to get ready. She considered, for a moment, just leaving right there and then; getting into the elevator and running, as she’d planned not long before. But the chances that someone would see her in the lobby, or that his security in the lobby below would catch her, was just too high. The whole machine was too settled in here to make a clear getaway. She saw that now.

  “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think we were taking the elevator?”

  Salman’s voice came from the living room, in the direction of the patio and the dinner they had had the night before, when she’d let herself get lost in it all.

  He walked into view… He was awash in sunlight, and she lifted her hands to shield her eyes in an attempt to see him better. She could make out the movement of his hand, motioning for her to come out to the terrace. She hesitated, looking at the door to the elevator; the exit from this world back into the one she knew, where he family was waiting for her, where she wouldn’t be pulled further into this mess.

  But that world didn’t have any mystery to it. It didn’t have the sun. If didn’t have him. She turned, and walked to towards where Salman was standing.

  She felt overdressed when she saw him. She’d assumed that he was taking her somewhere fancy and expensive, and that they would need to dress to impress the people around them. But he was in a polo and shorts, and looked more comfortable in the warming day than she was.

  “Come on,” he said, taking her hand. “Come see the other reason I picked this place.”

  He led her around the plants of the terrace to a staircase leading up. The guardrails were made out of Plexiglas, and it gave Nadya the heady sensation of climbing a staircase at the top of the word.

  The stairs led to a platform, up above the penthouse. And there, in the middle, waited a helicopter.

  Salman grinned like a little boy watching the look on her face. “New York traffic is terrible. I try to avoid it.”

  They headed no
rth, over the city. First the high-rises disappeared, and then the city. Then there were only towns smattered about. And then the towns grew less and less frequent, and there were only odd houses nestled amongst the forests and hills.

  As they flew, Nadya grew more and more certain that her plan was useless. They were going too far. They’d passed Hastings-On-Hudson quite some time ago, and they were still moving quickly. Out here, cabs would be too rare to count on getting one quickly, before Salman and his people realized she was gone. And there was little to no public transport, so even though she wasn’t that much further physically from where her sister was, she might as well be back in Seattle for how much she’d be able to reach her.

  She saw their destination before Salman pointed it out to her. That had to be it. It was less of a house and more of an estate. From up here, it was hard to tell much about it, other than that it was large, and the architecture appeared to be somewhere in between Western and Middle Eastern.

  “Why would they build a hotel all the way out here?” Nadya asked, struggling to be heard over the headset.

  Salman shot her a confused glance, and she thought he hadn’t heard her, but when she tried to repeat herself, he shook his head. “Wait until we’re on the ground,” he said, although she understood it more from reading his lips than from being able to distinguish his words over the beating of the rotors.

  They landed out front, in the middle of a circular driveway. There were no cars, nor, as far as Nadya could tell, were there any other guests. Just the same usual milling about of people who she knew were intended to help in some ill-defined way.

  “Where are we?” she asked, though it wasn’t the biggest question on her mind.

  “The Catskills,” he said. “You know, I love the mountains. Back home in Al-Ahradi, we don’t have any. It’s a really flat country. As soon as I saw this place…” His voice trailed off, looking at the front facade of the house. There was real affection there, Nadya realized. Not pride, or anything so base. He was happy here.

  “This is yours?” she said in awe, drawing his attention to her.

  He took her hands in his. “I was hoping it could be ours,” he said. “If you like it.”

  His accent came out more when he was speaking from the heart, she noticed again. She’d seen it last night, when they’d been talking about what they most missed from growing up. Nadya had had to talk in abstract, talking about the feelings and safety of childhood. But Salman had talked about his home, and the concrete things he missed.

  She saw many of those things now, in the way he’d chosen to build his house. She took it in. There was a grandness to it. The steps leading up to the front facade were marble, and reminded Nadya of the steps to a courthouse, or some great institution. They went all across the whole front face of the building, and gleamed in the sunlight.

  The building possessed an unmistakable sense of gravitas. That was one thing newly-built houses never had, and it set it apart. It felt like the house was rooted in the earth – like the great entranceway staircase continued on down beneath their feet the way islands that are just the tops of undersea mountains continue beneath the water.

  “Have you ever lived here?” she asked, as they slowly climbed the stairs, flanked by servants.

  “It depends what you mean by ‘lived’. My things have been here for some time. Most of them, anyway. But for the last few years I’ve mostly been traveling.”

  Nadya must have seemed like this worried her, because he quickly added and addendum.

  “Because I’ve been a single man. I don’t have a family, so I get sent around on assignment. It won’t be the same once I’m settled.”

  Nadya felt a sense of relief, and realized that the reassurance had been warranted after all. “Are you looking forward to it?” she asked, as they crossed the threshold. though the answer seemed fairly obvious.

  The doors that swung open for them glimmered like they were carved all of one piece from some giant blue gemstone. It was some kind of technological trickery, Nadya guessed, though she’d never seen anything like it before. The playful part of her mind set about imagining how it would have been mining a gemstone that size.

  She laughed, and her eyes darted to Salman, expecting him to ask her what she was laughing at. But his gaze was fixed at something behind the giant doors. She followed it, and what she saw took her breath away. Even though she’d seen from the air that the house had a courtyard to it, she had been expecting an entryway. Something in her mind had assumed that it would be a large room, full of hard surfaces, with cut flower arrangements in deceptively expensive vases littering every flat surface. Like the homes of old money New Yorkers, or the Beverly hills mega-producers ripping off their style in an attempt to gain credibility.

  No, this house was Salman’s. It was his taste, and no one else’s.

  They entered the wide courtyard. In a way, it almost reminded Nadya of the patio where they’d eaten the day before. But where the terrace had come with a certain feeling of exposure, this felt sheltered.

  There were plants everywhere, and Nadya recognized some of them, although she realized with fascination that many of them she had only seen in movies.

  “It’s a garden,” she said, mostly to herself, and saw Salman nod, out of the corner of her eye. “Who takes care of all this?” she asked, imagining one of the stone-faced grey-suited men wandering around with shears, pruning bushes and avoiding thorns in floral-patterned gardening gloves.

  “There are three gardeners, actually,” he said. “I chose them myself, and they all live on site. This is the heart of the home, and my home is my heart, so I wanted to make sure it was well looked after.”

  “You’d like them, I think,” he said as he took her hand, and brought her in. There was a winding path through planters, alive with bushes and towering, flowering trees. “They’re characters. I hear them arguing, when they don’t realize I’m nearby. One is an old woman, who seems like she’s always got a pie cooling somewhere. She’ll talk your ear off, if you’re not careful, about what works best in this climate and how things have ‘always’ been done.

  “Another is a very scientific man. The head butler said that when he moved in, he brought with him a full collection of specimens, and they had to give him an extra room in the servants’ quarters just to store it all. The third one is just a boy. He can’t be more than nineteen, but he loves growing things, and he just seems to know how they grow best. So I took him on to sort of fill things out, as it were. I like to imagine he keeps the peace.”

  “It’s alive,” Nadya said, as they walked. She meant the house. When she imagined huge mansions, she always imagined them as these empty caves, where the maids were only always dusting because the house itself were a relic, and nothing is used or wanted. Just empty halls, and a lingering feeling of decay. But there were people living here, already. The house had a life to it. It was a place to grow, not a place to decay.

  “I should hope so,” he said, not quite catching her meaning. “You did hear the part where there are three gardeners?”

  The path they were on looked to be made of slate tiles. They looked cool, and refreshing, so Nadya stopped and slipped her sandals off. She wanted to feel it beneath her feet.

  “Some of these plants seem like they’ve been here a while,” she said, after they’d walked on a bit further. She was looking at some vines that had climbed their way up to a second story window. “When did you build this place? I can’t imagine it got like this quickly.”

  They were coming around a corner now, towards the center of the garden, which was a great, wide open space with only a few low interspersed raised beds.

  He didn’t answer right away. Something was bothering him. “The pavilion is set up,” he said to a stone-faced man nearby, whom Nadya hadn’t even noticed.

  “Yes, sir. For the wedding, Your Highness.”

  Perfect place for it. She could see it now, with the guests all sitting in chairs, distributed through
out the booths. There was room for an aisle just there, and the sound of the vows, and the applause at the kiss would echo beautifully off of the surrounding house.

  “The wedding is to be held here,” Nadya observed, before she could stop herself.

  “No,” he said. He shook his head, as though trying to clear some thought from it. “I mean, no, the garden didn’t get like this quickly. I first built this place years ago. But yes, this is where the wedding is planned to be.”

  She’d gotten away with it, again – not knowing something that the other Nadya should really know. How could other Nadya have agreed to this, Nadya wondered, heading into an entire new life knowing nothing?

  The pavilion was beautiful. It was white, with inlays that matched the big blue doors of the entryway. It must have been custom built. And it had been built recently. There were still some tools lying in one corner, that a red-faced craftsman was even now rushing over to retrieve before he was chastised for leaving clutter to be seen by the prince.

  Nadya dropped Salman’s hand – that she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding – and climbed the stairs up onto the pavilion. From here she could get a sense of the entire house. She marveled at the details. It was a perfect fusion of the delicacy of Middle-Eastern design and the comfort of a rustic Catskills getaway. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did, beautifully.

  The sound of Salman’s footsteps drew her eyes to him.

  “I designed it myself. It took years… I’m not really a design man. But I wanted the house to feel comfortable, and like it was exactly how I wanted it. No one else’s designs quite felt right. So I learned how to do it myself.”

  Nadya felt her hand absentmindedly go to his arm, slipping through it with thoughtless ease. “It feels like you,” she said.

  She saw his face light up, and he put his hand on hers.

  “There are five sides to the building. Is that right?”

  He nodded. “There are five of us, in my family. I mean, there’s my four sisters, and myself.” Nadya must have looked confused, and he rushed to explain. “When I first designed it, I was a bit younger. It was important to me that everything should mean something, you know. And family… family is what home is about.

  “My parents wanted me back in Al-Ahradi, just after I finished my Masters. Or, they wanted me based there, at least. Two of my sisters are still there. So I had to pick, between being at home, where my family is, or being here, where I can get my garden to grow, where I can be outside without always feeling choked by the dust in the air, or driven out by the sun. I devised this house to remind me of my family. So I feel like they’re always with me.”

  Nadya felt like she must be missing something. She gave everything a look over, trying to piece everything together herself, but found she couldn’t. “What do you mean, exactly?” she asked.

  He talked quickly, the words slipping out of his mouth the way cool water slips over smooth stones in a babbling brook. “There’s one side for each of us. Five siblings, five sides. Like the pentagon, but not so much of the death and dying and war.”

  Nadya grinned, and liked to see the chain reaction as he smiled as well, noticing her.

  He continued. “My side is that one,” he said, pointing of behind them and to the right. “It’s got the master bedroom in it, and the best view. It also has my office, and the library.”

  “Because you’re wiiiise,” she said, remembering their conversation the day before and leaning into him.

  “And brave.” He said with a wink.

  “All right,” she said. “So whose side is that?” She pointed at the big, gleaming blue front door.

  “That’s my youngest sister’s. She’s a traveler. She’s been everywhere. I bet if you sat her down, and you asked her where she’d been in the last few weeks, she’d be sure to name at least two places you’ve never heard of. She first left home at sixteen, which is unheard of in our family. She convinced the pilot of the family jet that she was expected in China, somehow. Something about a school trip. Once she landed, she slipped her security escort, and we didn’t hear anything from her until three months later when we got a message from Nepal telling us not to worry, and that she was safe, and she’d send us pictures soon.”

  Nadya was captivated. There were so many sides to him that she was growing to admire, and this one had to be one of her favorites. He loved his sister. But it was more than obligation. He admired her, and treasured her for who she was. No more, no less.

  “Why blue?” she asked, as she’d been wondering since she first set eyes on the door.

  “She has blue eyes. Bright, bright blue eyes. They’re quite rare. No one else in my family has them. She actually showed up here out of the blue – pardon the pun – one day. She loved what I’d done with the place.”

  He was smiling. Of all his accomplishments, Nadya was beginning to realize, pleasing his family was perhaps the one he was proudest of. It was beginning to make more and more sense, why such a smart, intelligent man, would agree to tie himself forever to a woman he’d never met before.

  “Ok, fair enough. And what about that one?” She nodded her head towards the door behind them and to the left, next to the one Salman said was his own.

  “Ah, that’s my oldest sister. She’s a mother. Six children, if you can believe it. All adorable little terrors.”

  “And what is in her wing?” Nadya asked, suspecting she knew the answer.

  “The dining room,” he said at first, surprising her. “And the ballroom. She throws amazing dinner parties. And the children’s rooms, as well.”

  “And that one?”

  “Servants’ quarters. And kitchens. My sister, Amani, is very active back home in improving the treatment of migrant workers. It’s a big problem, as I’m sure you already know, but not so much in Al-Ahradi, anymore. And that’s down to her. She works with our neighboring countries, doing what she can.”

  Nadya found herself thinking that she was looking forward to meeting Amani, before she caught herself with a pang of regret.

  “And that one?” she pointed at the last remaining side. She had to move on.

  He smiled. “Elham, the second eldest,” he said. Music and entertainment. The piano is in there. And the listening room. It’s set up beautifully. I’ve got a recording studio, there for her. She uses it when she comes to visit.”

  “And,” he said, leaning into her conspiratorially, “the movie theater is in there.”

  “We should watch something,” she said. “I’d like to see it. From the inside.”

  He nodded, but didn’t move to walk. “Of course. But after breakfast, I think. We never did have breakfast, did we?”

  With those words, Nadya suddenly realized how hungry she was. All the excitement – the plans for escape and the realization that she was standing in the place of Salman’s dreams – it had served to suppress her appetite without her realizing.

  “I could use some coffee, as well, if you’re offering.”

  He asked a staff member to bring them a table and chairs, and they ate right there on the podium. She would have felt exposed up, Nadya thought, except that the courtyard itself, large though it was, still felt intimate. It was protected – their own private world. It had the same feeling of privacy that the inside of their hotel in the city had.

  “Is it always like this with you?” Nadya asked, settling back into her chair, sipping her coffee. She felt full and satisfied enough to muse.

  “Like what?”

  “Like nothing else matters. Like the rest of the world doesn’t exist.”

  She hadn’t meant it to sound romantic. She meant it as a comment on his style, and his choices. But the words out loud made her blush with their implications.

  “I’m glad you feel that way.”

  She began to formulate a response, to try and make him understand that she was commenting on the architecture of his home, and his choice of hotel suite. But instead she let it stand. If she was supposed to be his f
iancée, what was wrong with a little romance? She was pretending to be other Nadya, and other Nadya was supposed to fall in love with this man. If she let herself go a little bit down that road, what would be the harm?

  With the thought of Other Nadya, though, she grew uncomfortable. She was sitting in the very same place as the woman would, in just a few days, form an unbreakable, lifelong union with Salman. This very spot, right here, was where their life together would begin.

  “What’s wrong?” Salman asked, noticing her discomfort.

  “Nothing,” she said. Looking at him, she meant it. His face had a way of banishing her worried from her mind. Whatever was going to happen in an hour, or two hours, or ten hours, she had him for the moment, and she may as well enjoy it. “I was just thinking the house looks bigger than what you had described. Inside it.”

  He frowned. “Well, the rooms are quite large. Like back home, you know. Not like the tiny rooms they have here in America.”

  She nodded, as though she knew what he meant.

  “And there are some extra rooms. Guest rooms, and things like that. Nooks and crannies. I was just telling you the overall themes. There’s more to be discovered.”

  She found herself excited at the prospect. She would wander around, discovering. Maybe it would take hours. Maybe it would take days.

  Nadya’s heart sank again. She’d found herself imagining that this was all real, and forgetting that it wasn’t. She had to stop doing that, she thought. If only for her own sanity.

  “And, of course, there’s the basement.” He said it with something sly in his voice, and winked at the end. Her curiosity was peaked.

  “What’s in the basement?”

  “If you’re done with your coffee, I’ll show you.”

  She pitted her curiosity against her desire to stay there, sitting with him and sipping her coffee in the sunlight. The coffee and the warmth won. At least for the moment. They let the conversation between them lapse, quietly enjoying one another’s company.

  “What’s that smell?” she asked, after a while.

  “The coffee?” he asked, and she shot him an annoyed look.

  “No, not that.”

  “The food?” This time, the obviously incorrect answer was intentional. She could tell by his cheeky look.

  “No, really. What is that?”

  He concentrated, closing his eyes so he could focus. “Ah,” he said. “That. That’s Honeysuckle.”

  “They have it in California,” she said, remembering again, for the second time in as many days, the time she’d spent there and how few her cares had been.

  He was nodding. “They do,” he said.

  “It’s beautiful.”

  And she meant more than the honeysuckle. She meant everything. She meant the garden. She meant the house. She meant the entrance and the great grand door. She meant him. She didn’t specify, but she had a feeling he knew.

  When they’d drunk in enough of her fill of sunshine that Nadya’s curiosity began to outweigh her desire to sit just a bit longer, he let her down to the basement.

  They went through the door in Salman’s own side, and she caught just a hint of the rooms beyond. She wanted to explore them. She wanted to see the bedroom. She wanted to feel the way it would feel to wake up there, every day.

  But that could wait. Maybe forever. No sense in torturing herself over something she couldn’t have. She followed him through a door that led to a long staircase. It took her down, deeper than she had expected, until they were well below both the house and the garden.

  When they reached the bottom, they came out into a large, round room, with a tall, sloping ceiling. Salman flicked a switch, and turned on the lights. But the lights weren’t up on the ceiling. They were only about nine or ten feet above them, about at the height a normal ceiling would be. Up on the ceiling, high above them, were what looked like a million tiny, twinkling lights, laid out against a curving, dark blue field.

  “A bowling alley?” she asked, surprised.

  “Bowling under the stars!” He had his arms out, presenting. “I should explain,” he said, when Nadya continued to look a bit puzzled.

  “It’s a reminder of home. In fact, I just had it completed, so my family can see it when they come for the wedding. When we were young, my father found out that the White House had its own bowling alley. We didn’t bowl – no one at home did. But still, my father was not a man to be outdone. So he set one up, out in the courtyard. And we played on it constantly.

  “But we didn’t really know the rules, and maybe we should have found out how the game was supposed to be played, but the children were the only ones who used it. So we just made up our own rules, and played by those.”

  Everything in the room shone. Nadya could have sworn that if she walked over and looked down at the lane, she would be able to see her face in it. Looking up at the “stars” above was captivating. So much so that she had a hard time concentrating on his words.

  “Would you like to christen it?” he asked. He had walked up close to her, and it startled her to hear him so close so suddenly.

  “Certainly,” Nadya said. “But only if you teach me your rules.”

  He smiled, and obliged. As far as Nadya could tell, it was like a mixture of bowling and golf. Instead of keeping track of how many pins were taken down, instead, they kept track of how many throws it took to take down all the pins; the lower the score, the better.

  “You have great form,” Salman said, watching her ready herself to throw her first try of the last round. If she got it in less than three tries, she would win.

  “Thanks. I worked at a bowling alley in High School.” She began her backswing, and was halfway through the motion when she realized what she had said. The thought threw her off, and she released the ball too late, sending it flying up instead out smoothly out. The ball made a horrible banging noise as it bounced itself heavily into the gutter.

  “It’s just like Dubai to have a bowling alley before everyone else. Tell me, did they know who you were? Or were you doing it in secret, just to try and get away from everything?”

  She tried to stifle her sigh of relief as she readied her next shot, facing away from him so that he wouldn’t see the stress on her face. “The second one. What about you? Did you ever have anything like that?”

  She bowled her second throw. A much better result, though not perfect. Losing was a real possibility, if he did well on his turn.

  “Me? Oh, no. I think my mother wanted me to, in retrospect. She would tell me bedtime stories about princes that disguised themselves so they could walk amongst their people. But I was a good boy. I cared far too much about pleasing my father to ever do anything like that.”

  The ball hit the pins, but left three standing. He’d have a chance.

  “Is that why you’re getting married? For him?” Nadya was concentrating too hard on readying her next shot to keep the words from slipping out.

  He didn’t reply. They both watched the ball roll down the aisle and blast away all three remaining pins.

  Walking over to the ball return, Salman looked like he was considering what to say. “We all have our reasons for the decisions we make. It’s a hard thing, to try and find the balance between meeting your own needs, and doing what your family requires of you. The idea that the individual is all that matters, and the family has no say is very American. I’m surprised at you.”

  “Well I am surprising,” she said. “I thought we covered that.”

  He’d gotten his ball and was heading to the lane. Mute, Nadya watched him throw it, decisively. It struck perfectly, scattering all the pins on impact.

  “And you’re surprising, too,” she said, as he turned with a grin that nearly split his face in two. “Have you been holding back?”

  He shrugged. “I want you to like it here.”

  “Oh, we’re playing again,” Nadya said, standing. “For real, this time. I was holding back, too.”

  He raised his eyebrow ske
ptically. But he agreed. “On one condition, though,” he said.

  “Anything.”

  “If I win again, you’ll take a walk with me out across the property. There’s something I want to show you.”

  She picked up her ball, and walked over to the lane, where the pins had already been set up for her next throw.

  “Deal,” she said, and sent the ball screaming decisively towards them.

 
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